Risk Factors

What are the risks of developing pancreatic cancer? 

Risk factors are characteristics, habits, or environmental exposures that have been shown to increase the odds of developing a disease. While some risk factors are modifiable, some others are not. Not everyone who has one or more risk factors for pancreatic cancer will develop the disease.

What factors may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer?

Modifiable Risk Factors

Smoking – Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than non-smokers. Use of smokeless tobacco may also be associated with pancreatic cancer development.

Alcohol consumption – Daily drinking habits may modestly increase pancreatic cancer risk for individuals who had two or more drinks a day than for nondrinkers. This may also increase the risk of pancreatitis.

Diet – A diet high in cholesterol, fried foods, red and processed meats may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. A diet high in fruits, vegetables and fibre may reduce risk.

Obesity – People who are significantly overweight are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared with those who are not.


Non-modifiable Risk Factors

Age – The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Approximately 90% of people with pancreatic cancer are 55 years of age and older.

Gender – Men are slightly more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

Race – Individuals of African American and of Ashkenazi-Jewish heritage are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than Caucasians. The reasons are not clear but are likely linked to genetics.

Chronic Pancreatitis – The incidence of pancreatic cancer is higher in people with chronic pancreatitis.

Diabetes – High blood sugar in long-standing diabetes can increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Diabetes mellitus of long-standing (>2 years) duration roughly doubles an individual’s risk for pancreatic cancer, and the risk of pancreatic cancer is even higher in recent-onset (< 2 years) diabetes. Pancreatic cancer can also directly cause diabetes mellitus.

Environmental Factors – Occupational exposure to some chemicals, such as pesticides, dyes, or chemicals related to gasoline, may increase the risk for pancreatic cancer.

Family History and Inherited Genetic Syndromes – Pancreatic cancer may be inherited because it tends to run in families; 5 to 10% of pancreatic cancers result from hereditary factors. Hereditary pancreatic cancer syndromes include:


  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome: caused by mutations in STK11 gene
  • Familial pancreatitis: caused by mutations in the PRSS1 gene
  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome: caused by mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome: caused by mutations in the CDK2NA gene
  • Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome: caused by mutations in the VHL gene
  • Lynch syndrome: caused by defects in MLH1 or MSH2 genes
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1): caused by mutations in the MEN1 gene
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